By Gemma Garner
‘The Miss England contest is not JUST a beauty contest . You have to be far more than just a pretty face to win the crown. It’s not just about looking good in a swimsuit anymore.’ – Miss England 2014
Pageantry has always been a backwards concept to me. Now that it’s 2014, our society insists that women are valued for far more than they used to be ‘back in the day'; and I agree. It’s undeniable that we’ve come far. However, the fact that beauty pageants are still acceptable tells me women are still seen as objects to be judged. Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way criticizing those who, in some sense, enjoy pageantry, or those who even take part in beauty pageants (however, I AM criticizing the many men who gain profit from the exploitation of women within pageantry. Boo to them.). Heck, I’m widely known for being a (guilty) sucker for Toddlers & Tiaras. But, regardless of where you stand, it’s important that we educate ourselves about the flaws and negative effects that come from the acceptance of Beauty Pageants, in order to (maybe one day) bring about change. Whenever I’ve expressed my heartbreak regarding beauty pageants, these are questions I’ve often been asked that I think are important to address.
‘If you disagree with beauty pageants, why partake in them?!’
Firstly, that’s just not how the world works. If we all turned a blind eye to blatantly problematic and oppressive traditions that actually, though not directly, affect us negatively in the grand scheme of things, how are things going to change? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But don’t tell me I shouldn’t.
‘Miss England is clearly not just about beauty! There are many rounds that allow women to be more than just a pretty face.’
Whilst I applaud Miss England for offering more than ‘Beauty, Swimsuit & Talent’, it still puts women in a box. Their box just has more labels. These include: charitable, loving, kind, warm, gentle, accepting, beautiful, feminine- which are all wonderful traits. But what about the women that aren’t charitable? That have trouble showing emotion? That have social anxiety? Mental illness? Physical deformities? What about trans women? What about the girls that aren’t gentle? Or accepting? What about the girls that aren’t ‘textbook’ beautiful? By picking out (undeniably stunning and talented) women and labeling them as the ultimate ‘Miss England’, they’re only representing a very small minority of women across England. Which means most of England’s ladies are left feeling small and not enough.
‘But that’s not directly Miss England’s fault; why are you attacking them? Many women haven’t heard of Miss England and still feel small!’
You’re exactly right. Miss England didn’t cause this. This is already a part of our culture. Women are generally made to feel this way. Every day is a battle for perfection. Miss England just do a perfect job at representing this. We gain acceptance. They gain crowns.
Pageantry actively supports the idea that women are objects and re-enforces an unattainable idea of perfection. If you disagree with me, I’ll direct you to an article I just read congratulating the gorgeous fifth-year undergraduate Cambridge student Carina Tyrell for winning Miss England 2014. The comment section is filled with hateful comments from men picking at her appearance, (‘Disgusting’, ‘skeleton needs a burger’, ‘Is this the best our country has to offer?’) telling her even THAT isn’t enough. We’re teaching people to view women as nothing more than an object to critique; especially within pageantry… And if that isn’t terribly damaging for both women, and men’s perception of them, I don’t know what is.
According to Miss England, in order to be the ultimate British woman you have to tick all the boxes on a long… long list. But… What if the ultimate, perfect, British woman is… you? What if YOU are perfection? How you are right now? What if pageants offered us acceptance? And self-love?
But, hey, Miss England are right. It’s not just about looking good in a swimsuit anymore. Apparently, it’s about being perfect wife material too. Charitable, sporty, kind and talented. It’s about being a role model. The ideal woman. An object. And to me, that sounds a lot like women ‘back in the day’. We need to let women know that, you know what? Being a human being is perfect enough. I don’t need a judge to tell me who Miss England is. Miss England is you and I.